James Lawton: McLeish's rock-hard attitudeto commitment shows he's a chip off the old Ferguson block

Recently, McLeish spoke of his debt to leading managers when he decided he wanted to learn all he could about the arts of management
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For the second time in 48 hours a Scottish football man christened Alexander comes to London for a possibly defining match with the bookmakers set against him.

Yet if Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United are 13-5 at Stamford Bridge tonight (with Chelsea 11-10 favourites), he will no doubt encourage the same kind of backer who liked the 7-1 offering against his protégé McLeish's Birmingham City in Sunday's League Cup final.

You know what you get from any team sent out by Ferguson – and by the man who, with Willie Miller, formed a superb central defence that was such a vital reason for Aberdeen's battering of the Old Firm of Rangers and Celtic back in the 1980s.

You get a level of commitment that goes beyond the caprices of form and the ebb and flow of natural playing strength.

This is why any suspicion that Chelsea, with an in-form Nicolas Anelka maybe a vital aid to some belated impact by £50m Fernando Torres, are likely to stall United's pursuit of their 12th Premier League title has to be accompanied by the usual caution.

United, however wretched their form or tenuous the link with the days when they brimmed with exceptional talent, always provide one guarantee. It is the competitive integrity that even on the worst, most contentious and one-eyed of his days, Ferguson wears like a battle ribbon.

McLeish was similarly dressed at Wembley on Sunday when his Birmingham City stopped the brilliance of Arsenal, and then overwhelmed them with the force of their performance.

Recently, McLeish spoke of his debt to leading managers when he decided he wanted to learn all he could about the arts of management. He was especially eloquent about the kindness of Wenger at one point in an investigative tour.

There was no mention of Ferguson, and for a very good reason, as McLeish explained the other day when he attended a tribute lunch to his old boss in London. "You play under Fergie and the lessons stay for ever," he said.

They were about pride and duty as a professional and if Wayne Rooney has recently challenged Ferguson on these fundamentals, they are surely enshrined in this week's celebration of Ryan Giggs's 20 years as a professional of great and enduring distinction.

McLeish is also a striking product of the Ferguson legacy. He played for 16 years at Aberdeen, winning three Scottish Premier Leagues, six Scottish Cups and the European Cup-winners. Mostly he was the tough, relentless pro beside the quicker Miller but there were times, unforgettable for Aberdeen fans, when he stepped out of the mould, most memorably when he gave the boss one of his sweetest professional moments in the first of the Scottish Cup finals with Ferguson's old club, Rangers.

Aberdeen were trailing 1-0 when McLeish chipped in an equaliser of stunning delicacy, a feat which persuaded many that there was more to the man known as Big Eck than perhaps smacked you in the eye.

What it was, Ferguson knew right away, was the quality of a man who hated to lose. Chelsea will be unwise to discount the presence of a few others like that when Manchester United fight for their lives again tonight.

Rooney elbow just another example of official myopia

There can surely be only two reactions to Wayne Rooney's egregious escape from punishment after his elbowing of an opponent at the weekend.

One is anger. The other is another notch of disbelief that the football authorities blunder ever deeper into the 21st century piling one fiasco on top of another.

Rooney's participation in a vital Premier League match at Stamford Bridge tonight is a scandal. So is the ability of Mark Clattenburg, the offending official, to declare his version of Papal infallibility after being so abjectly caught out by the all-seeing eye of television.

But before getting too exercised by this latest evidence of official stupidity and arrogance – is there a more deadly combination on the face of this earth? – we should take a small pause while considering the inevitability of such embarrassment.

From Fifa down, the myopia is no less than stunning. Consider the latest roll call of quite monumental injustice.

Thierry Henry subverts the World Cup qualifying process with a piece of cheating which will remain vivid for as long as most observers retain anything that might be described as a memory. He handles the ball, then crosses it for the decisive goal against Ireland in the Stade de France. Much of the world is aware of this in the time in takes to rerun the action. Arsène Wenger says he pities both the referee and the game.

On 27 June 2010, Frank Lampard scores an entirely legitimate goal against Germany in the World Cup. Everyone can see this except the officials. Lampard's "goal" would have made it 2-2, and if this didn't dislodge the fact the Germans looked considerably superior, it would have meant that they had conceded two goals in a few minutes – a potentially transforming reality if we ever saw one. Unfortunately, the fact of this comes to the referee only at half time, when he was reported to have exclaimed, after seeing a rerun: "Oh my God."

June 27 is of course a red letter day for the football Luddites. A few hours after Lampard, the world saw Carlos Tevez score a goal against Mexico which was as flawed – because Tevez was several yards offside – as the English one was legitimate.

At what point does football, having sold so much of itself to television, admit that its paymaster is also its principal agent of ridicule? It is impossible to say because if the incidents we have discussed here do not make an unanswerable case for urgent reform, what possibly might?

Resistance to the changes that would have made impossible Clattenburg's rejection of his appalling error of judgment in the Rooney affair has the same irrational foundation as all the other misadventures.

It is built around the silly argument that the referee's dignity is paramount, that somehow he is undermined more profoundly by some sensible recruitment of technological assistance than by the admission that he cannot, in all the high pressure circumstances and minute scrutiny by television, be right all of the time.

This is the absurd premise which makes it possible for Rooney to pull on his United shirt at Stamford Bridge tonight. What would it take to prevent such an invitation to fair-minded rage? A regular Monday morning clean-up operation by experienced football men locked in a room with a television set and a technician to run all the available evidence.

Thus armed, they could step out into the daylight and cut through all the wearisome charges and counter-charges of preferment and manipulation and say who should be banned and who shouldn't.

It would be justice based not on some retarded perspective on what is right and wrong but the strictest rules of evidence. Is this too much too ask? Endlessly and banally we are told it is.

Terrace reaction holds back football

The England cricketer Steven Davies is to be congratulated on his decision to announce that he is gay. It is also admirable that his team-mates have offered instant support at a challenging time.

However, it does bring us back to the question of why there hasn't been such a declaration from within professional football since Justin Fashanu committed suicide in 1998, eight years after coming out.

At least part of the explanation, beyond the prejudices of macho-driven dressing rooms, may be the guaranteed coarseness of reaction on the terraces where all forms of hatred so readily proliferate.

Perhaps those who have felt obliged to live in the shadows might find the nerve to make alliances and come out in some number. It would at least have the merit of both complicating and diffusing the bigotry.

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